After the great fire of 1666 in London St. Paul's Cathedral was burnt down and needed to be rebuilt. An architect named Christopher Wren was commissioned for this project.
One day, he went to the construction site to observe the progress. He saw a man who looked rather unhappy, and he asked him, "How do you feel about your work?"
The man said, "I'm just a stonecutter. I've been building this wall for ages. The work is monotonous. I work in the scorching sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I'm not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But it's a job. It pays the bills." Wren thanked him for his time and walked on.
Wren then saw a second man who was diligently working and looked quite happy. He asked him the same question, "How do you feel about your work?"
This man replied, "I love my work. I'm building a cathedral. Sure, I've been working on this wall for ages, and yes, the work is sometimes monotonous. I work in the scorching sun all day. The stones are heavy and lifting them day after day can be backbreaking. I'm not even sure if this project will be completed in my lifetime. But I'm building a cathedral."
Do you ever feel like your work is monotonous or dull? Or that your life is lacking flavor and meaning? You're not alone. But there is good news. We can bring meaning and purpose to our work and life simply by changing our attitude. It's free and doable by everyone.
There is a similar story about a time when American President John F. Kennedy visited NASA. He saw a janitor happily mopping the floor, so he asked him why he was so happy. The janitor said, "I'm helping send a man to the moon!"
We probably all have "better" jobs than being a janitor, yet few of us are happier than that janitor. Therefore, it is not the people with the most interesting jobs or most exciting lives that are most happy. Rather, it is the people who are most interested about their work and most excited about their lives that are most happy. Let's not confuse the input with the output.
If we can have a good attitude towards our work, then we will naturally do a better job. When we do a better job, our future prospects will naturally become brighter. But if we complain all the time, then people will dislike us, and our future prospects will become bleak.
So the big question is…How can we shift our attitude?
Two excellent ways are gratitude and service.
Even if we feel dissatisfied with our work or life, we probably have way more things to be grateful for. Consider these examples:
Our parents raised us, fed us, changed our diapers, paid for our schooling, took care of us when we were sick, etc.
Our teachers taught us the knowledge and skills we have now to be able to earn a living
Our ancestors went through countless difficulties for us
Our employer for giving us money to support our families
Our government provides us with so many essential services and keeps the country safe
Countless businesses and workers provide countless products and services that we use every day
When we think about gratitude, we need to go one step further and repay gratitude. It's like, if someone gave you a gift, you probably feel the urge to give them a gift in the future, right? Similarly, all these people give so much to us, so we should give something back in return:
For our parents, we should help them be happy and reduce their worries
For our teachers, we should use the knowledge and skills we learned to help society
For our employer, we should work hard for the success of the company
For our government, we should be productive members of the country
For all those businesses and workers, we should diligently do whatever our job is in society to serve society
For example, I used to grumble about doing chores. But after I thought about all that my parents have given me, I started doing chores without them asking me. I can't even begin to return all the gratitude they've given me, how could I complain about doing simple house chores?
As a teacher, I used to complain about "bad" students. But later I realized that if you get a group of 30 people together, there's no way all of them will be A+ students. Having some "bad" students is normal, and I am grateful to all my students because I wouldn't have a job without them. Besides, they are "bad" because of unfavorable circumstances. I am lucky I have favorable circumstances, so I should be nicer and more patient towards them.
By having an attitude of gratitude, we will naturally be happier and more productive at work and in life.
We can always connect our work to serving the greater good. That happy stonemason did not view his work as simply cutting stones; he viewed it as building a cathedral, a glorious building that would benefit future people for hundreds and thousands of years to come. The NASA janitor did not just view his work as mopping the floors; he viewed it as helping to send a man to the moon. How we view our work is our choice.
There's a saying that goes,
"Plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit."
In my work, I know that some teachers view their jobs as simply passing on knowledge or even babysitting. But I view it as a chance to impart important life lessons and values to the future generation; I hope that the future generation will become better and better. I may not see super fast improvement in my students, but I can rest at ease knowing that I do my best to plant positive seeds and give a positive influence.
By focusing on service, my joy includes the joy of others. I have more happiness and motivation in my daily work, so I do a better job, and then I gain more career advancement opportunities. It is a positive reinforcement cycle.
What are you grateful for, and how can you repay that gratitude?
What greater purpose do you serve?
Weekly Wisdom #230